Thursday, August 26, 2021

Is the IPCC creating false perceptions, again?

IPCC AR6 Report

The Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (WG1 AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raises the question: Is the IPCC seeking to downplay the dire situation that we are in, again? 

Downplaying the temperature rise from pre-industrial

One of the first issues that comes up is the baseline. The IPCC uses 1850–1900 as a baseline, like it did before (in SR1.5). This is one out of many instances where the IPCC creates a perception that it would take many years before the 1.5°C threshold would be crossed. This 1850–1900 isn't pre-industrial. The Paris Agreement calls for pre-industrial as a base. 

The IPCC image on the right shows a 1.09°C rise from 1850–1900. This isn't the rise to the year 2020, but it is the rise to the period from 2011 to 2020. 

Instead, when taking the 2020 temperature rise and going back one century, NASA data show a 1.29°C rise from 1920, and this is a conservative figure, as 0.1°C can be added to translate NASA's sea surface temperatures into ocean air temperatures and another 0.1°C can be added for higher polar anomalies, which brings the temperature rise up to almost 1.5°C and this isn't the full rise from pre-industrial by a long shot.

Furthermore, the IPCC uses seasonally-biased data to "reconstruct" the temperature rise that took place prior to its baseline, making it look as if there was no rise before its baseline.

Instead, the rise from pre-industrial to 1920 could be as much as 0.3°C (1750 to 1920) + 0.2°C (1520 to 1750) + 0.29°C (3480 BC to 1520).

Adding up the rises for all these elements gives a total rise from pre-industrial to 2020 that could be as high as 1.29°C + 0.1°C + 0.1°C + 0.3°C + 0.2°C + 0.29°C = 2.28°C, as highlighted by above images and as further discussed at the pre-industrial page

In February 2016, the temperature
was 1.70°C higher than in 1900
(i.e. 1885-1914, the 30-year period
centered around the start of 1900)
Ignoring peak peril by averaging over long periods

The map on the right shows that the average global temperature was 1.70°C higher in February 2016 than around 1900 (i.e. 1885-1914). The map also shows local anomalies as high as 15.1°C and even higher peaks were reached on specific days. 

This raises questions as to how the thresholds set at the Paris Agreement should be measured, i.e. is a threshold deemed to be crossed when the anomaly from pre-industrial crosses the threshold for a month, or for a year, or for a decade? Wouldn't a long period effectively grant polluters a long grace period to keep polluting? 

When in doubt, wouldn't downplaying the danger violate the precautionary principle?  

When building a bridge, an engineer will calculate how much load it can handle by first looking at how many heavy trucks will be using the bridge at times of PEAK traffic, rather than to average the weight of all vehicles on the bridge over a 30-year period. Caption and image by Sam Carana from earlier post.

Downplaying the near-term temperature rise

The Paris Agreement calls for politicians to limit the temperature rise to well below 2°C from pre-industrial, while calling upon the IPCC to describe pathways to achieve this. 

Instead of pointing at the policies that can best be  adopted, the IPCC uses Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), and the only two scenarios for which the rise remains well below 2°C are SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6 (images right).

The position of methane is of vital importance in these scenarios. As a requirement for both the SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6 scenarios, methane emissions would need to have fallen since the year 2015. Even for SSP2-4.5, for which 2°C does get crossed, methane emissions would need to fall.

So, have methane levels fallen since 2015?

The image on the right shows NOAA globally averaged marine surface monthly means up to the most recent one which is April 2021. The NOAA annual mean methane data are:
in 2015: 1834 ppb
in 2016: 1843 ppb
in 2017: 1850 ppb
in 2018: 1857 ppb
in 2019: 1866 ppb (most recent IPCC level)
in 2020: 1879 ppb

Note also that above NOAA data are for global mean marine surface readings. At higher altitudes, even higher levels show up. The combination image below illustrates this, showing that the MetOp-1 satellite recorded a mean global methane level of 1956 ppb at 293 mb on September 2, 2021, am (panel left). The image in the right panel shows that the same satellite recorded much lower mean global methane levels, i.e. of 1894 ppb, closer to sea level, i.e. at 586 mb, on September 5, 2021, pm, while peak methane levels were as high as 2738 ppb and much methane was showing up over the Arctic Ocean. 

Ominously, methane reached very high peak levels recently. The Metop-2 satellite recorded a peak methane level of 3422 ppb at 469 mb on October 3, 2021, pm.

The image on the right shows high recent monthly average methane levels recorded at Barrow, Alaska. While this may not be representative for global methane levels, it does constitute a frightening warning of what may eventuate.

Stronger methane releases from subsea permafrost can be expected, says a paper by Natalia Shakhova et al. A 1000-fold methane increase could occur, resulting in a rise of as much as 6°C within 80 years, with more to follow after that, according to a paper by Atsushi Obata et al.

Seafloor methane releases could be triggered by strong winds causing an influx of warm, salty water into the Arctic ocean (see this earlier post and this page). Since little hydroxyl is present in the atmosphere over the Arctic, it is much harder for this methane to get broken down.

Even relatively small methane releases could cause tremendous heating, if they reach the stratosphere. Methane rises from the Arctic Ocean concentrated in plumes, pushing away the aerosols and gases that slow down the rise of methane elsewhere, which enables methane erupting from the Arctic Ocean to rise straight up fast and reach the stratosphere. IPCC AR6 gives methane a lifetime of 11.8 years. IPCC TAR gave stratospheric methane a lifetime of 120 years, adding that less than 7% of methane did reach the stratosphere at the time. 

The MetOp-1 satellite recorded a mean global methane level of 1956 ppb on September 11, 2021 am, at 293 mb. This corresponds with an altitude of some 9 km, which is where the Stratosphere starts at the North Pole. The conversion table shows that the Tropopause, which separates the Troposphere from the Stratosphere, is lower over the North Pole (at about 9 km altitude) than over the Equator (17 km altitude). 

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Mind you, the IPCC report does include some frightening images, such as one with a temperature rise of up to 17.5°C by 2300 (Figure 4.40), and one with CO₂ levels approaching 1200 ppm around 2100, corresponding with a temperature rise of up to 8°C (Figure 4.3).

What the IPCC doesn't mention is that at 1200 ppm CO₂e the clouds tipping point would get crossed that results in an additional 8°C temperature rise. With a high rise in methane levels and the GWP for methane calculated over a short horizon, such a huge temperature rise could eventuate within a few years time.

[ from earlier post ]
The IPCC downplays the methane threat by simply excluding the potential for a high rise in methane levels, while using a 100-year GWP for methane and while also waving away the potential for strong methane releases from oceans to the atmosphere.

For a really high methane emissions scenario, the image on the right shows a trend that is based on NOAA 2006-2020 annual global mean marine surface methane data and that points at a mean of 3893 ppb getting crossed by the end of 2026, a level less than twice as high as the recent 1956 ppb mean methane level.

Such a high mean methane level by 2026 cannot be ruled out, given the rapid recent growth in mean annual methane levels and with double-digit growth sustained beyond 2020 to date. It is deceptive to assume that methane levels have fallen and will continue to fall, the more so since the IPCC doesn't point at the most effective policies to achieve reductions in methane emissions.

By how much would such a doubling of the methane level raise the total carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) level for greenhouse gases? A methane level of 3893 ppb would translate into 583.95 ppm CO₂e (at a GWP for methane of 150 for a 9-year horizon) or 778.6 ppm CO₂e (at a GWP for methane of 200 for a 5-year horizon). 

The image on the right shows trends based on IPCC AR6 GWP values pointing at a GWP for methane of 150 for a 9-year horizon and pointing at an even higher GWP for a shorter horizon. A short horizon is quite appropriate given that the above trend points at the possibility of such a high level for methane getting reached by 2026. 

Even with less methane, when using a short horizon for the GWP of methane and adding the impact of further greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, etc.), the 1200 ppm CO₂e clouds tipping point could get crossed by 2026. 

As said, the IPCC AR6 uses SSPs to depict rises or falls for emissions. For methane, emissions would need to have fallen since 2015 for both the SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6 scenarios. The same goes for nitrous oxide, as the top panel of the image on the right indicates (see also this version).

Instead, however, as the image in the bottom panel indicates, recent nitrous oxide concentrations appear to follow a polynomial (blue) trend, rather than a linear (green) trend. In other words, growth in nitrous oxide releases is also accelerating.

Without implementation of effective policies, emissions cannot be expected to fall. Moreover, emission reductions alone will be insufficient to avoid a possibly sharp rise in temperature over the next few years. Sadly, the IPCC fails to outline pathways to improve the situation. 

Given that humans will likely go extinct with a 3°C rise, and a 5°C rise will likely end most life on Earth, the IPCC could have given a little more warning that a huge temperature rise may happen over the next few years.

Natural variability acts as a catalyst in this case. Within a few years time, sunspots will be reaching the peak of their cycle, and they are looking stronger than forecast.

An upcoming El Niño could raise surface temperatures significantly. The image below indicates that the difference between the top of El Niño and the bottom of La Niña could be more than half a degree Celsius. 

The image on the right indicates that the current La Niña is forecast to end early 2022. As temperatures keep rising, ever more frequent strong El Niño events are likely to occur, as confirmed by a recent study. Authors also confirm concerns that this IPCC report has downplayed the threat that a super El Nino event could occur soon.

Another large contribution to the upcoming temperature rise is the falling away of the cooling provided by sulphur that is currently co-emitted by industries such as coal-fired power plants, shipping and smelters. 

As cleaner alternatives become more economic, and as calls for cleaner air become stronger, this could result in a strong temperature rise soon, as discussed at the aerosols page

As illustrated by the bar on the right, there are many further elements that could dramatically push up the temperature soon. Altogether, the rise from pre-industrial could increase to more than 18°C by 2026

Decline of Arctic snow and ice can result in huge albedo losses, loss of latent heat buffer, jet stream changes, more and more extreme weather events, and more. Slowing down of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and increasing ocean stratification can result in less heat getting transferred from the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean, as also described at this page.

One of the largest threats is seafloor methane and despite repeated warning from some of the best experts in the field, the IPCC simply waves away this threat. This and other elements in the bar have been discussed in detail in many earlier posts such as this one and on the extinction page

Given these huge threats, how could the IPCC give the impression that there was a “carbon budget” to divide? The IPCC downplays the size, speed and ferocity of the temperature rise in many ways. What motivates the IPCC do this? One reason could be that the IPCC seeks to create the perception that there was such a “carbon budget” left to be divided among polluters, so they could comfortably keep adding further pollution for another decade or more. 

Sam Carana, restating a 2013 quote:
[ from the Quotes page ]

“There is no carbon budget to divide between polluters, instead there is just a huge debt of CO₂ to be removed from the atmosphere and the oceans. Comprehensive and effective action must be taken to combat run-away warming.”

It should have been obvious by now that there is no “carbon budget”. Instead, there's only a huge and very dangerous carbon debt. There is no room for trade-offs or offsets, and terms such as negative emissions are simply inappropriate. All efforts should be made to cut emissions, including ending current subsidies for fossil fuel and livestock, while carbon could and should additionally be removed from the atmosphere and oceans. And even then, it's questionable whether any species, let alone humans, will be able to survive the coming decade, so additional action will need to be taken as well. 

[ see the extinction page ]

Excluding the most appropriate policy tools, while instead advocating polluting pathways  

The IPCC creates a perception that pollution could continue for decades to come, by downplaying the temperature rise and by downplaying the threat of a huge rise within years, while promoting the idea that there was a “carbon budget” to be divided among polluters that would enable polluters to keep polluting for decades to come. Again, the IPCC has failed to do what the Paris Agreement calls for, i.e. for the IPCC to specify the pathways that will give the world a better future, specifically the policies that are needed to facilitate a better future. 

In the video below, Guy McPherson also discusses the report. 


This IPCC report should be returned to be rewritten, to instead focus on the best policies to facilitate the necessary changes. The scientific evidence in favor of what needs to be done is overwhelming, from all kinds of perspectives, while it's also simply the right thing to do. Most effective are feebates, i.e. imposing fees on polluting products while using the revenues to support rebates on better alternatives, and feebates are especially effective when implemented locally. Studies on the effectiveness of feebates were made available as early as 2005 and feebates have been discussed by the IMF, the OECD and the UN, and have been implemented in various ways, e.g. in the Clean Car Programme in New Zealand. The situation is dire and calls for the most comprehensive and effective action, as described at the Climate Plan


• IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways (SR1.5)

• Paris Agreement, adopted 2015

• Seasonal origin of the thermal maxima at the Holocene and the last interglacial - by Samantha Bova et al. (2021)

• Changing El Niño–Southern Oscillation in a warming climate - by Wenju Cai et al.

• IPCC report may have underplayed risk of freak El Nino and La Nina events

• IMF: Chapter 1. What Is the Best Policy Instrument for Reducing CO2 Emissions?, in: Fiscal Policy to Mitigate Climate Change - by Ruud de Mooij et al. (2012) 

• OECD: Are environmental tax policies beneficial? Learning from programme evaluation studies 

• UN: Policies and Legal Options to Promote the Energy Efficiency of Private Motor Vehicles 

• Feebates: An effective regulatory instrument for cost-constrained environmental policy - by  Kenneth Johnson

• NZ Ministry of Transport: Vehicle Purchase Feebate Scheme

• Clean Car Programme in New Zealand

• How much warming have humans caused?

• A Temperature Rise Of More Than 18 Degrees Celsius By 2026?

• Overshoot or Omnicide?

• Climate Plan

• Pre-industrial 

• Feebates

• Quotes

• Feedbacks

• Extinction

• Latent Heat

• Aerosols 

• Can we weather the Danger Zone?

• How much warmer is it now?

• When will we die?

• Most Important Message Ever

• Methane levels threaten to skyrocket

• Just do NOT tell them the monster exists

• 100% clean, renewable energy is cheaper

• Negative-CO2-emissions ocean thermal energy conversion

• 'Electrogeochemistry' captures carbon, produces fuel, offsets ocean acidification

• Olivine weathering to capture CO2 and counter climate change

• Biochar group at facebook

• IPCC seeks to downplay global warming

• Blue Ocean Event

• What Does Runaway Warming Look Like?

• Ten Dangers of Global Warming

• AGU poster, AGU Fall Meeting 2011